How to Identify Where Love Ends and Toxicity Begins
To love someone is to accept them wholeheartedly, their flaws and all. We all know this definition of love. Over the years, certain behaviors, rituals and symbols have become synonymous with this overarching notion of an eternal bond – such as the institution of marriage and complete non-judgment of your partner.
However, such a binary and rigid view of love can lead us to ignore its many gray areas. We can begin to engage in behaviors that harm us and allow behaviors that are obviously problematic.
Mental health research has proven time and time again that love can look and feel different than it does in books, movies, and music. Here are three common mistakes people make when they view their intimate relationships too rigidly.
#1. You are too quick to sacrifice for your partner
Yes, sacrifice is inevitable in most relationships. And yes, it is honourable. But must it always be disinterested or even necessary? To research not really say.
“It’s certainly honorable to set aside self-interest because of your partner or relationship,” says psychologist Francesca Righetti. “However, our research shows that there are difficult consequences for both the giver and the recipient.”
According to Righetti’s research, this is often what consequences look like:
- The giver experiences lower well-being because the sacrifices inherently compel him to voluntarily give up his preferences and goals. This makes sacrifice an exceptionally expensive prosocial behavior for them.
- The receiver is left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the receiver feels grateful, loved and accepted. But they also feel guilty and indebted.
Although sacrifice has this effect on both members of the relationship, women are more likely to experience lower well-being after sacrificing because sacrifices are often seen as their duty rather than their choice. This means that they may particularly suffer the costs and very few of the benefits of relational sacrifices.
To avoid the pain that sacrifice can cause in a relationship, Righetti advises you to follow these two steps:
- Change what you focus on. If you focus on what you lost after a sacrifice, you are more likely to experience lower personal well-being and relationship satisfaction. Try to see the good side of the sacrifice (for example, look at how happy the partner is or what you/they can learn from the experience, or feel proud to be such a generous person).
- Reconsider the need to sacrifice. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary to maintain a relationship. However, there are times when they can be avoided with contingency plans and a little adjustment. For example, while changing countries to accompany your partner’s career change is valid, sacrificing your own weekend to accompany your partner to their parents when you don’t want to may be unnecessary.
#2. You’re too forgiving to ‘let things go’
Sometimes our loved ones may behave in unethical and/or potentially dangerous ways. These situations require us to be completely honest with our partners and with ourselves – but we may not be doing this because we love them.
“When someone close to us behaves in an unethical way, we face a conflict between maintaining our moral values and maintaining our relationship,” explains psychologist Rachel Forbes from the University of Toronto at the Canada.
Forbes’ to research found that people often feel deep ambivalence when reacting to the unethical actions of loved ones – perhaps due to people’s tendency to share a sense of identity with loved ones:
The cost of this ambivalence is twofold:
- As a byproduct of leniency, the self seems to bear some of the burden of misbehavior – feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty for one’s partner’s actions.
- The significant other may engage in the behavior over and over again because they are not called out for it, which can become an extreme cause for concern in abusive relationships.
For people who might struggle to be honest about the misbehavior of their loved ones, Forbes has the following advice:
“The ambivalence we feel about the misbehavior of those close to us is difficult to reconcile,” says Forbes. “When faced with the unethical behavior of a loved one, it’s important to think about our moral values and determine if the act itself fits within those values.”
#3. Your relationship is built around helpfulness
We usually choose to be in a long term relationship with someone if we are in love with the person they are. However, there might be (in more cases than we care to admit) other considerations – like the status of the family they belong to, how they can help us achieve our own goals, and other benefits. financial and material.
Seeing someone as a resource isn’t completely wrong, but it can be a problem when it’s the foundation of your relationship.
The psychologist Xijing Wang describes this approach as the “instrumentality perspective”, which is a dimension of objectification, that is, of considering a person as an object. From an instrumentality perspective, people are degraded as mere tools whose function is to facilitate the achievement of others’ goals. Essentially, once we take an instrumental approach, we only care about a person’s usefulness to us.
Wang cites two reasons why this approach can have negative effects on intimate relationships:
- No partner will be “helpful” forever. People’s goals can vary greatly during different stages of life, and therefore the “tools” they need can vary. In other words, although B may be useful to A for a particular purpose for a certain period of time, it is difficult for B to be continuously useful to A. Thus, if A wants B to always be “useful” , A ends up feeling disappointed.
- Your partner may feel objectified. Instrumentality can suggest to your partner that they have no intrinsic worth and don’t contribute anything other than what they can do to help you achieve a certain goal. According to Wang, being treated in such an insensitive and depersonalized way by your partner can be unbearable.
If you feel like your partner views you from a purely utilitarian perspective, it’s important to know that it’s not your fault and you shouldn’t let it affect your self-esteem. Indeed, people are driven by goals, and achieving goals can lead to an instrumental approach that might be a default mode in social relationships, including intimate relationships.
It is advisable to engage in an honest conversation with your partner, a loved one, or a mental health professional in such a scenario, as it can directly affect your well-being and self-image.
Conclusion: Having a partner who sticks with you through thick and thin is a blessing. But you must constantly check yourself and honestly evaluate your relationship to ensure that this relationship does not turn into a prison rather than a sanctuary.